Belgian Paralympian Marieke Vervoort lived life on her own terms; and that is how she wanted to end it too. Suffering from an incurable degenerative spinal condition, which was diagnosed when she was 21, she had signed euthanasia papers in her native Belgium more than ten years ago. But she also went on to win Paralympic medals in the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Games. And when wheelchair racing was no longer possible at age 37, she turned to indoor skydiving.
“I’m really scared, but the euthanasia papers give me a lot of peace of mind because I know when it’s enough for me, I have those papers,” Marieke Vervoort said in an interview at the 2016 Paralympic Games. “If I didn’t have them, I think I’d have committed suicide already. I think there will be fewer suicides when every country has the law of euthanasia. I hope everybody sees that this is not murder, but it makes people live longer.”
“Each training I’m suffering because of pain. Every race I train hard. Training and riding and doing competition are medicine for me. I push so hard – to push literally all my fear and everything away.”
Vervoort said she kept pushing back the day of her death, knowing it could come anytime — as it can for anyone. She said she can be pain-free one minute, and nearly pass out a few minutes later.
“You have to live day-by-day and enjoy the little moments,” she said. “Everybody tomorrow can have a car accident and die, or a heart attack and die. It can be tomorrow for everybody.”
Her day finally came. She died on Tuesday 22 October 2019. Fly on, Marieke!
"You see your wheelchair standing outside and you're flying like a bird!"